First Conference.

I was fourteen. I heard about conferences from an older church friend, and she had had fun, so I thought I should give it a shot. I was the oldest teenager in the Vancouver Unitarian Youth Group, and in that group was the one place I felt sure and secure. I was the oldest, I was the leader. So I wanted to see if there was more out there for us.

Mom and Dad came out with me, I guess to check it out and make sure I was okay. The Coquitlam Youth Group was hosting it, and so it was only an hour’s drive to Crescent Beach, to this sunny little triangle of grass where the camp was.

We walked in the gate and a tall, willowy blond smiled at me. “You’re new. Welcome to Conference.” You could hear the capital C in her voice. “I’m Lara. C’mon, I’ll take you to register.”

I turned to my parents. “I’m going to go register.” And Lara was so reassuring that they left. Without embarrassing me at all. Lara was a miracle worker!

That was Friday night. Some time around three on Saturday morning, I was pretty sure I’d found my real family, and that I was bulletproof, and that these people were going to save the world. I had filthy jeans from participating in a game called Wink, had eaten some baked potato with a girl called Laura, and knew, when I couldn’t focus on the bonfire any more, that I had to go to bed. I had wandered around meeting people and listening to ideas and conversations. I hadn’t contributed that much, but no one seemed to mind. They were supernova blurs to me.

I went to my assigned dorm. It seemed as though I had put my sleeping bag there months before, and it was a kind of shock to see it there. Laughter and thumps rang in the fluorescent hall outside, but I was too exhausted and too full of images and ideas and new people, people who spoke my language, to stay awake. Before I fell asleep, I leafed through the orientation magazine. It was largely rules and suggestions, with a lot of comics and an introduction profile for each of the conference organizers. Twenty-and-some years later, I still laugh at ‘cross-country skydiving’ and ‘downhill tennis’ . I slept smiling the whole night, I am pretty sure.

The Saturday, I have so few memories. I went to the beach with a tall boy named Ben, who went to Quaker college. I remember the wind on my cheek and the surprising heat of the sun.

That evening they had a carnival planned. I sat on the kissing couch and kissed strangers. I giggled with new friends. I was so tired I can’t even remember.

Some time around midnight I climbed into a hot tub with about 12 other kids. It wasn’t lascivious, it was just fun. I can’t believe I ever trusted near-strangers like that.

The heat stopped working in the hot tub some time around three. When it got too cold for even our huddling and slippery bodies, I climbed up into a loft room and went to sleep beside a beautiful, alabaster-skinned goth boy named Gabe.

When I woke up as the sun was flooding the room, there was a small, birdlike girl watching me.  Laura with the baked potato.

As the sun rose, we turned into friends. She lived on Bainbridge Island and I swore to visit. She would come to me. We would write.  “I wondered who Gabe spent the night with,” she said. “I’m glad it was you.”

“But we didn’t do anything!” I protested.

She grinned wickedly. “I would have!”

That Sunday morning, Gabe and Laura and I ate pancakes and laughed so hard our ribs hurt. We could have solved every problem in the world, if only we’d thought of them.  The sun shone down on us bold as love, and we reveled in it.

Some time around eleven AM I acquired a boyfriend, Doug. He was fifteen and had a blond mustache, and was from Olympia. He was a rocker, through and through. We kissed on and on in the sunshine, and I thought I was the luckiest girl in the entire universe. I was a part of the universe. It was unfolding around me like a mandala, dancing.

Yeah. A good conference is a high. That one, because it was such a wonderful, unexpected first, was the highest high.

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